Sacred Texts  Hinduism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana, Commentary by Sankara (SBE38), tr. by George Thibaut [1896] at

7. But wherever there are effects, there is division; as in ordinary life.

The conjunction 'but' is meant to exclude the suspicion of impossibility.--We must not imagine the origin of ether to be impossible, because wherever we observe effects (modifications of a substance), such as jars, pots and urns, or bracelets, armlets and earrings, or needles, arrows and swords, we also observe division; while, on the other hand,

p. 14

nothing which is not an effect is seen to be divided 1. Now, we apprehend ether as divided from earth and so on; hence ether also must be an effect. Thereby (i.e. by the circumstance of their being divided) place (dis), time, mind (manas) and the atoms also are shown to be effects.

But--an objection may be raised--the Self also is divided from ether and so on, and hence it follows that it is an effect like jars and the like.--This objection we refute by pointing to the scriptural statement that 'ether sprang from the Self (Taitt. Up. II, 1). For if the Self also were a mere modification (of something else), it would follow that all effects such as the ether and so on are without a Self 2; for scripture mentions nothing beyond the Self, and that Self itself would (on the supposition stated) be a mere effect. And thus we should be driven to the hypothesis of a general void (sûnyavâda). Just because it is the Self, it is impossible for us to entertain the idea even of its being capable of refutation. For the (knowledge of the) Self is not, in any person's case, adventitious, not established through the so-called means of right knowledge; it rather is self-established. The Self does indeed employ perception and the other means of right knowledge for the purpose of establishing previously non-established objects of knowledge; for nobody assumes such things as ether and so on to be self-established independently of the means of right knowledge. But the Self, as being the abode of the energy that acts through the means of right knowledge, is itself established previously to that energy. And to refute such a self-established entity is impossible. An adventitious thing, indeed, may be refuted, but not that which is the essential nature (of him who attempts the refutation); for it is the essential nature of him who refutes. The heat of a fire is not refuted (i.e. sublated) by the fire itself.--Let us further consider the relation expressed in the following clauses: 'I know at the present moment whatever is present; I knew (at former moments) the nearer and the remoter past; I shall know

p. 15

(in the future) the nearer and the remoter future.' Here the object of knowledge changes according as it is something past or something future or something present; but the knowing agent does not change, since his nature is eternal presence. And as the nature of the Self is eternal presence, it cannot undergo destruction even when the body is reduced to ashes; nay we cannot even conceive that it ever should become something different from what it is.--It thus follows from the essential irrefutability of its nature that the Self is not an effect. The ether, on the other hand, falls under the category of effected things.

To the objection, raised above by the pûrvapakshin, that there is no plurality of homogeneous substances out of which the ether could originate, we reply that it is not an absolute law that effects should originate only from things belonging to the same genus, not from such as belong to different genera. Threads for instance and the conjunctions of threads 1 do not belong to the same genus, the former being admitted to belong to the genus 'substance,' the latter to the genus 'quality.' Nor again is there a binding rule that the operative causes such as the shuttle, the loom and so on should belong to the same genus.--Well then let the doctrine that the causes must belong to the same genus extend to the inherent causes only, not to the other causes 2.--But here also there is no absolute rule. For we see that one and the same rope is made of things belonging to different genera, such as threads and cow-hair, and several kinds of cloth are woven of vegetable thread and wool.--If it were assumed that the postulate of the inherent causes belonging to the same genus refers only to the genera of essentiality, substantiality, &c., the rule would be a superfluous one; for in that sense every inherent cause belongs to the same genus as every other 3.

p. 16

[paragraph continues] --Nor again is there an absolute rule that only a plurality of inherent causes, not one such cause, is able to originate an effect. For it is admitted that an atom as well as the mind (manas) originate their first activity; i.e. one atom by itself, and also the mind by itself, give rise to their primary actions, without being in conjunction with other substances.--And, should it be said that there is an absolute rule as to several causes only having originating power in the case of the origination of substances only (not in the case of the origination of actions, &c.), we again deny that, because it is admitted that there is such a thing as change (transformation). An absolute rule, such as maintained by you, would exist if substances did originate other substances, only when assisted by conjunction (a non-inherent cause). But, as a matter of fact, one and the same substance, when passing over into a different state distinguished by peculiar characteristic marks, is admitted to be an effect. In some cases more substances than one undergo the change, as when a young plant springs from seed and earth; in other cases one substance only changes, as when milk turns into curds.--In short it is none of the Lord's laws that only several causes in conjunction should produce an effect. We therefore decide, on the authority of scripture, that the entire world has sprung from the one Brahman, ether being produced first and later on the other elements in due succession. A statement to that effect has already been made above (II, 1, 24).

The further assertion made by the pûrvapakshin, that on the assumption of ether having had an origin it is impossible to conceive a difference between the former and later periods (the time before and after the origination of ether) is likewise unfounded; for we have to understand that that very specialising difference 1, from which we ascertain at present that there is a thing such as ether, different from earth and the other elements, did not exist before the

p. 17

origination of ether. And just as Brahman's nature does not participate in the nature of earth and the other elements characterised by grossness and similar qualities,--according to such scriptural passages as 'It is not gross, it is not subtle,'--so also it does not participate in the nature of ether, as we understand from the passage 'it is without other' (Bri. Up. III, 8, 8). It therefore remains a settled conclusion that, before ether was produced, Brahman existed without ether.

The inference, drawn by the pûrvapakshin, that ether has no beginning, because it differs in nature from those substances which avowedly have a beginning, such as earth and so on, is without any value; for, as it is contradicted by scripture, it must be considered fallacious. We, on our part, have brought forward arguments showing that ether is an originated thing; and we may moreover reason as follows: Ether is non-eternal, because it is the substratum of a non-eternal quality, viz. sound, just as jars and other things, which are the substrata of non-eternal qualities, are themselves non-eternal.--Nor is there any danger of this latter reasoning being extended to the Self also, for the philosopher who takes his stand on the Upanishads does not admit that the Self is the substratum of non-eternal qualities. Moreover, those who teach ether to have an origin do not consider it proved that it is all-pervading and so on.

In reply to the remarks made under II, 3, 4 we point out that those scriptural passages which speak of the 'immortality of ether' are to be understood in the same way as the analogous statements about the immortality of the gods 1, since the origin and destruction of the ether have been shown to be possible. And if it is said of Brahman that 'it is omnipresent and eternal like ether,' Brahman is there compared to ether, whose greatness is well known, merely in order to indicate its supereminent greatness, not in order to maintain its being equal to ether. Similarly, when we say that the sun moves with the speed of an

p. 18

arrow, we merely mean that he moves fast, not that he moves at the same rate as an arrow. This remark explains that scriptural passage also in which Brahman is declared to be infinite like ether. On the other hand, such passages as 'It is greater than ether' prove that the extent of ether is less than that of Brahman; passages like 'there is no image of him' (Sve. Up. IV, 19) show that there is nothing to compare Brahman to; and passages like 'Everything else is of evil' (Bri. Up. III, 4, 2) show that everything different from Brahman such as ether, &c. is of evil. All which serves to refute the assertion that the passage which declares ether to have originated has to be taken in a secondary sense, as the word Brahman actually has to be taken in some passages. Scripture and reasoning in combination rather show that ether has an origin, and the final conclusion therefore is that ether is an effect of Brahman.


14:1 Whatever is divided, is an effect, as jars, pots, &c. Whatever is not an effect, is not divided, as the Self.

14:2 I.e. without a material cause.

15:1 Threads are the inherent cause of a piece of cloth; the conjunction of the threads constitutes the non-inherent cause; the loom, shuttle, &c. are the operative causes.

15:2 So much only was in fact insisted upon by the pûrvapakshin, II, 3.3.

15:3 An inherent cause is always a substance (dravya), and as such p. 16 always falls under the notion of essentiality (sattâ), which constitutes the summum genus for substances, qualities, and actions.

16:1 Viz. the quality of sound.

17:1 I.e. as referring to a relative immortality only.

Next: II, 3, 8